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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Seeing greens

by Mike Masterson | July 4, 2021 at 1:45 a.m.

Those atop the pyramid at North Arkansas College have planted two programs destined to blossom in coming years into professionally maintained golf courses and manicured recreational fields.

I realize that's not a perfect analogy. But it's close enough that everyone who enjoys the challenges of golf can understand the potential benefits.

With Bass Pro's Johnny Morris shaping these Ozarks from Springfield through Branson (and now just below Harrison) into a national recreation and golfing destination, the need for knowledgeable greenskeepers and those who can maintain the expensive equipment necessary is pressing.

As a companion to its two-year turf management program, NorthArk initiated a one-year program geared toward maintenance of outdoor power equipment.

The idea behind working alongside industry partners to serve their substantial needs deserves credit for foresight and ingenuity. Gosh knows, such needs are pervasive. Harrison has an 18-hole country club, with another 18 holes at nearby Diamond City and a nine-hole course in Berryville.

Add to those numerous golf courses in Branson, 15 or so courses in Springfield, and more than a dozen in northwest Arkansas. Then you have city parks, baseball diamonds and athletic fields as other prospective industry partners.

Incidentally, if I total the regional golf courses, my tiny brain says there are nearly 1,000 holes in this area, all with fairways and delicate greens that require knowledge of grasses, pin placements, fertilizer, pre-emergent treatments, herbicides, fungicides, aeration, labor-intensive daily mowing, rolling greens and methodical attention to detail.

NorthArk's associate of applied science degree in turf management is headed by Laura Berry, Ed.D. Twelve students are now enrolled and seven are serving apprenticeships. All students are required to also perform internships. While the degree has an agricultural foundation, it includes business and technical courses vital to the turf industry.

Turf management, says the course description, is listed as an in-demand occupation based on the 2018-2019 Projected Employment Opportunities List published by the governor's office and the Department of Workforce Services. The studies cover expansive ground, including the science behind managing turf grasses, including horticulture, pest control, proper irrigation techniques and weed management; the business of managing turf grass, including inventory control and communication; and basic maintenance of turf grass equipment.

Current enrollees upon graduation in 2022 will have opportunities in careers such as golf course superintendents, athletic field managers, parks managers, grounds managers, professional tree trimmers or industry sales.

NorthArk spokesperson Micki Somers told me the relatively new turf program has definitely been a hit and is growing like, well, summer grass (sorry, couldn't resist). In response to industry requests, the college added the year-long certificate-granting outdoor power equipment courses beginning this fall.

"Our industry partners wanted their employees to be trained to repair the equipment used to maintain parks, resorts, sports fields, etc.," she explained.

Somers said NorthArk's turf program is unique: "We are the only college in Arkansas to offer a triad of educational credentials--an apprenticeship, Department Of Labor certificate, and an associate degree. Most schools offer the program with only the certificate credential. That information has been relayed to us through the Department of Labor."

Berry said the turf management major came in response to an employer's need when nearby Big Cedar Lodge needed help for its multiple golf courses.

"Our for-credit associate's degree provides a leg up for workers who want to progress along the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America eligibility scale to become a well-paid golf course superintendent."

She emphasized the turf program isn't just for prospective golf-course employees. "We can prepare graduates for a career in the turf management industry in sports, municipal, or residential settings, or provide advancement opportunities for incumbent employees.

"This program is unique in the state and region by merging a flexibly scheduled associate's degree with a Department of Labor apprenticeship that provides on-the-job training," she continued.

"We currently have students working as apprentices in the Hollister, Rogers, Benton, and Mountain Home areas, but certainly aren't restricted to those. We work closely with employers on content and scheduling, and can provide the course content remotely for apprentices working outside the Harrison area."

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.


Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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